Compassion Is Essential

“Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, we will not find peace.” ~ Albert Schweitzer, The Philosophy of Civilization … 

I have compassion for the many individuals who are somehow a part of my life: my family, friends, relatives, colleagues and workers, and those I am involved with in sports and through numerous social organizations. Then those I casually meet or help, and even those I attempt to go out of my way to meet or help. Still, I unfortunately cannot say that my compassion extends to all living things. To a certain degree, I care about all life… nonetheless, I cannot say that I “extend my circle of compassion” to it equally.

There is a theory I have read about before called the Monkey Sphere theory, also known as Dunbar’s number. It goes on to state that as humans, there is a set limit on the number of people for whom we are able to care, and if someone is outside of that number, we simply care much less about them than we would about someone inside our sphere. This magical number for humans was calculated to be 150, based off studies performed on monkeys. What this theory is saying in its simplest terms is that a loved one’s death affects us much more strongly than the deaths of numerous strangers outside our spheres of influence.

When considering the previous theory, it would seem that what Albert is saying here is impossible. Yet if we want peace in our hearts, this is what he claims we must accomplish. Fortunately, for us there is an aspect to this theory that is not taken into account–the chain of friendships. Many of you may have heard of a theory called six degrees of separation. This is based on studies that display that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world. We are therefore all linked by a friend of a friend of a friend to each other. The beauty in this is that we can help to recognize peace by showing compassion to those in our lives, and they in turn will show compassion to those in their lives as well.

For each person I encounter in life, each animal, plant, tree, and living thing I see, if I can remind myself that the object of my attention is a creation of the exact same creative source as I am, I will know peace. When I think of this life in such a way, the beauty of all living things becomes absolutely apparent. I see the value in the birds in the trees behind my house. I recognize the struggles, the love, the hopes, and the dreams in the beggar on the street, just the same as the two-week-old fetus in a woman’s womb. As we each take part in the same journey through life, peace is extending concern and compassion–equally and unconditionally–to all life here on Earth.

Show compassion to someone both inside, and outside, your circle today.

Questions to consider:

Why do we limit the number of people for whom we feel deep compassion and connection?

What would it mean to feel truly compassionate for all living things?

What is one step we could take to extend the circle of people or things for which we feel compassion?

For further thought:

“Compassion is not religious business, it is human business; it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability; it is essential for human survival.” ~ the Dalai Lama

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Filed under Commentary, Food For Thought, Living, Opinion

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